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Larry Wilmore shines on ‘The Nightly Show’

| Monday, February 2, 2015

nightly-show-graphic-WEBKeri O'Mara

“I came into the office today to get my things and everyone was here, and I was like, wait are we doing this again?” Larry Wilmore joked on the second episode of “The Nightly Show.” “I guess that’s what nightly means. I didn’t know.”

Two weeks into his new gig hosting his own late-night show on Comedy Central, Wilmore has already begun to carve out a niche for himself in the increasingly crowded late-night field. Wilmore inherited the 11:30 p.m. time slot from Stephen Colbert, who will take over “The Late Show” on CBS this September. Throughout its nine-year run, “The Colbert Report” was consistently one of the smartest shows on television, with Colbert’s right-wing pundit character brilliantly satirizing the most ridiculous aspects of cable news.

Succeeding one of the true comic geniuses of the past decade is a difficult task, but Wilmore proves he is more than ready for the spotlight. He has been the “Senior Black Correspondent” on “The Daily Show” since 2006 and served as showrunner for “Black-ish,” this season’s best new sitcom, for its first 12 episodes. At the helm of “The Nightly Show,” Wilmore brings those years of experience as well a much-needed diversity to the overwhelming whiteness of late night.

The show’s first segment borrows from Jon Stewart and Colbert’s playbook, with Wilmore commenting on recent headlines. This kind of opening monologue has become a fairly standard late-night staple, and he does not deviate far from “The Daily Show” format. Nonetheless, Wilmore has used the segment to deliver smart commentary on a number of issues, especially his unflinching take on the sexual assault allegations against Bill Cosby.

“Why aren’t people listening to these women?” Wilmore asked during the segment on the Jan. 20 show. “Is it just because they’re women?”

It was one of the most incisive comments on the Cosby situation and a good showcase for the distinct perspective Wilmore brings to late night.

The second and third segments are where Wilmore shines, presiding over a panel that discusses a different topic each night. So far, these panelists have included New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, rapper Talib Kweli and former White House speechwriter Jon Lovett alongside a number of other journalists and comedians. Wilmore oversees a debate on a particular topic — ranging from President Obama’s State of the Union and the Cuba embargo to money in politics and the culture of lying in sports — and jumps in with off-the-cuff jokes.

The debate is followed by a segment called “Keep It 100,” in which Wilmore asks each panelist a question related to the topic; the audience gets to decide whether each answer is “keeping it 100” or being dishonest. It’s exciting to see the show book guests other than actors promoting their latest film, and the panels have featured a diverse range of political views. Guided by Wilmore’s impressive improvisational skills, these segments have been both intelligent and funny, and the show’s risk to try something new has paid off so far.

“It’s a show about underdogs,” Wilmore told The New York Times, “and that happens in a lot of different forms, whether it’s race, gender or whatever.”

Just two weeks into its run, “The Nightly Show” has already found a confident, witty tone and will surely continue to improve over the coming months. This focus on underdogs makes Wilmore’s show a refreshing voice in late night and one worth returning to nightly.

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About Matthew Munhall

Matthew earned his BA from Notre Dame in 2016, and he is currently pursuing an MA in English and American Literature. He thinks everyone should listen to Charly Bliss.

Contact Matthew